Barbie sees a talking dog, Martin Tenbones, from her dreams get shot in the streets of New York City and she’s horrified, naturally. The twisted fifth volume “The Sandman: A Game of You” (1991–92) begins: Gaiman’s imagination is beautiful and perverted –– a perspective just as important as fairytale happy endings.
A gang of women, Hazel, Thessaly and Foxglove, walk on the moon road to save Barbie from the dream in which the notorious evil boss Cuckoo has trapped her, a dream which Tenbones fled from, into reality to warn Barbie.
On the borders between dream and reality, the characters are unaware of who they are: They are playing the game of you. Sense of identity shifts daily — and more in hazy dreaming. Gaiman maintains that dreams reveal parts of ourselves we are reluctant to acknowledge in waking.
Barbie must embark on a classic fairytale adventure in the dream she’s sucked into.Imagine “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) or “The Hobbit” (1937), but much darker. Barbie sees her cute monkey and rat companions killed, Hazel dreams of baby cannibalism and Foxglove dreams of an abusive ex-lover with holes for eyes.
Reflecting on the morbid darkness which often surfaces in dreams, Hazel says, “You know the really scary thing about bad dreams? ... It’s that something’s going on inside your head, and you can’t control it. I mean, it’s like there’s these bad worlds inside you.”
Gaiman uncomfortably confronts our nightmarish guilt over dreaming things that we would never wish for in waking daylight. Are we responsible for the things we dream? Monkey hangings and baby cannibalism only come from our imagination.
At the end of her adventure, the Cuckoo's minions take Barbie to the Cuckoo Citadel, which turns out to beher old Florida home. The Cuckoo is revealed to be her younger self, and Barbie’s old stuffed animals look exactly like her journey’s companions. Parts of real life often surface strangely in dreams. Sometimes it’s because we’ve been thinking about these thoughts, or our mind is pushing forward forgotten details because they’re critical for a coming challenge.
The subconscious is tricky, and Gaiman knows this.
If I dream that my family is stuffed in tea tins, which I then serve to my professors as a holiday gift, that still doesn't necessarily say anything about me as a person. Gaiman wrote about baby cannibalism and even outlandish gore, but he is still a widely respected author — in part because of his bizarre vision.
Horror is a medium used to confront ourselves (as Barbie literally does). Horror is a terrible A terrible warning against our darkest urges, horror is the egregious violence which reminds us of the good we have.
The next time one of your dreams takes you down the yellow brick road with your talking childhood stuffed animal, headed for a witch’s fortress, I’d suggest not to take it too hard.
But still, if you think about your dreams for a moment, you might learn something about yourself.